This is an article from 2019. Read our most recent coverage of the Doomsday Clock: In 2022, the Doomsday Clock didn’t change for the second year running
For the last seven decades, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has unveiled the position of the clock hands on the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” that show just how close the group of scientists believe humanity is to destroying itself. The good news is that this year, the clock hand remained at the same position it was last year—hooray!
The bad news is, the time is still 11:58. Two minutes to midnight, or a potential apocalypse. The last time the clock read 11:58 was in 1953 (pdf), when the threat of nuclear attacks during the Cold War was at its highest.
This item is about the 2019 update to the Doomsday Clock. In 2021, the Doomsday Clock remained at 100 seconds to midnight.
In their presentation today (Jan. 24),the authors of the Bulletin’s science and security board acknowledge that this stability over the years should not be a source of comfort, but rather that it reflects a new reality. “The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time,” the group wrote in a statement. “The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats and lulling citizens around the world into a dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.”
These “new abnormal” risks now include climate change as well as nuclear warfare. These threats, the group argues, have been exacerbated by “information warfare” (read: fake news) that has threatened global democracy and escalated geopolitical tensions. Additionally, the US’ threat to leave the Paris accord on mitigating climate change in 2020 signals a failure to act on the looming burden of climate change. (Coincidentally, a new report from a separate group of scientists found that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record was also released today.)
The threats to the global and political ecosystem have changed a lot since the Bulletin was founded in 1945. Back then, there was really only one major global threat to humanity: nuclear war. At that point, the founding scientists—who all worked on the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb in the US—were increasingly concerned about how these weapons would change geopolitical conflicts. In 1947, when they published the first Bulletin, the clock hands were at 11:53, seven minutes to midnight.
Of course, these scientists can’t predict an actual immediate threat with their clock—it’s a metaphor to signal the world is not fine. Although two minutes to midnight paints a bleak picture, the team notes that there’s no reason the clock can’t be moved back in the future. To move the clock back, the team recommends that the US and Russia work together to come to de-escalate military tensions, limit nuclear weapon development globally, and that the US re-commits itself to combatting climate change.
In other words, the “new abnormal” is hopefully not a permanent state. As John Mecklin, the editor of the Bulletin, previously told Quartz, “In the end you have to figure that humanity doesn’t want to kill itself.”